At Odd Society Spirits, innovation is all about collaboration
The Tasting Lounge at Odd Society Spirits in East Vancouver is a veritable beehive, buzzing with collaboration. Behind the bar, Kylie Bartlett shakes a frothy Tree Sum cocktail and strains it into a coupe glass. The neon-green libation was created by Vanessa Bourget, owner of Exile Bistro, and is made with a foraged-pine-needle, parsley syrup that Ms. Bourget trades to the craft distiller in exchange for the drink’s other key ingredient, Odd Society’s Wallflower Gin.
Part of the distillery’s Visiting Cocktail program, the forest-fresh Tree Sum is just one of many collaborations that allows Odd Society to live up to its name as an unusual innovator within British Columbia’s still somewhat oddly disconnected worlds of craft spirits and bartending.
“You need the support of the community,” says Odd Society founder and distiller Gordon Glanz. “People have to use your stuff, otherwise you don’t go anywhere.”
Bartlett, the distillery’s full-time bar manager, spends three nights a week mixing cocktails in the tasting lounge, and two days working on sales calls. Based on the feedback she receives from other bartenders, Odd Society has developed, or is in the process of developing, a diverse line of much-needed craft liqueurs, including a new amaro to be released this fall.
You need the support of the community. People have to use your stuff, otherwise you don’t go anywhere.
“The thing with bartenders is that they usually want to work with other bartenders,” adds Glanz. “It’s a tough nut to crack.”
On the one side are the craft distillers, toiling away at their stills on a spirited labour of love with limited resources and scant (if any) hospitality experience. “People get into it because they want to make spirits and it seems like lots of fun,” says Glanz.
“That’s the fantasy. Then the reality hits—there’s this whole extra end of packaging and selling. At some point, every craft distiller says, ‘Oh, my God. What did I do?’”
On the other side are the bartenders, who may want to support the local spirit makers, yet are constrained both by budget and lack of information, and by the intense competition from international brands that can afford to throw special case rates and sponsorships their way.
“The craft distillers can’t just say, ‘Here we are, aren’t we great, please use us,’” says Justin Taylor, general manager at Vancouver’s Cascade Room. “There needs to be more attention to detail when building those relationships.”
So never the twain shall meet?
Not necessarily. Taylor, for one, says part of the onus is on bartenders to reach out to distillers to tell them what they need. He points to Okanagan Spirits as an example.
“They make a lot of great berry spirits that I use. But I couldn’t understand why nobody was making a rhubarb liqueur. There are thousands of pounds of the stuff grown locally.”
So he asked, and they made it.
Kelly Ann Woods, proprietor of Gillespie’s Fine Spirits in Squamish, B.C., is another craft distiller who understands the importance of collaboration. After connecting with Taylor, Gillespie’s is now making a vermouth steeped with botanicals indigenous to the Pacific Northwest.
“A lot of bartenders are looking for whiskey, but many of us are still a few years out,” says Wood. “There is only so much vodka and gin that we can produce—and that bars can stock. We have to figure out what we can make in the interim. If we work together, we can do some really cool stuff. That’s the key to our evolution.”
LOCAL LIBATIONS: The Visiting Cocktail program has introduced bartenders from across B.C. to Odd Society’s range of products, while allowing their creations to be showcased at the distillery’s East Van tasting room.
—by Alexandra Gill